CfP: Magic, Spirits & Power (Nov 15–16, 2018, University of Copenhagen)

Call for Papers – PhD Course and Research Workshop
Magic, Spirits and Power: Transgressing the Religious / Secular Divide
Centre of African Studies and the PhD school at the Faculty of Theology, University of Copenhagen

Since the early pioneering studies by Evans-Pritchard in the 1930s, the study of witchcraft has been
a prominent theme in anthropological and African studies. The classical legacy has been challenged
and developed by later generations of scholars such as Peter Geschiere, Harry West, Isaak Niehaus,
Adam Ashforth. Others, such as Florence Bernault have discussed witchcraft and the fetish from a
historical perspective, looking particularly into the how witchcraft was part of the colonial lexicon.
From a different context, Nils Bubandt has argued against perceiving witchcraft as a system of
belief that people draw on in order to explain the world. On the contrary, in the context of an
Indonesian island, Bubandt argues that witchcraft is more about doubt and confusions than about

In this Ph.D. course / workshop, we will address the question of how to approach and understand
magic and spirits and their relationship to power. It is widely recognised (in anthropology, religious
studies and African studies) that in African societies for instance there is a strong linkage between
the political and the spiritual spheres. Spirits are part of the world people inhabit and they have
agency. This course addresses both methodological and theoretical questions of how to understand
magic and spirits. How do we on the one hand avoid using pejorative and exotisising terms
(implying that we are studying something irrational) and on the other hand move beyond a
particular culturally informed analysis? The analysis of magic and spirits has for long been closely
related to analytical categories of belief and specific religious ideas. In this course, we wish to open
up such debates and examine other ways of analysing and understanding spirits. Moreover, we seek
to question the underlying oppositional categories of the religious and the secular by indicating that
magic and spirits in a broad sense is part of how people perceive and act in the world.
The course will be organized as a one-day course (lunch-to-lunch), with presentations from invited
key notes speakers and workshops with paper presentation from Ph.D. students and other interested

The themes of the course include (but are not limited to):
 witchcraft and the categories of religion and secularity
 witchcraft and rationality
 withcraft, belief and doubt
 witchcraft, insecurity and uncertainty
 witchcraft as practice and discourse
 social science on and as witchcraft

Date and time: 15 November (Lunch) – 16 November (Lunch) 2018
Keynote speakers: Florence Bernault, Professor of African history, Sciences Po, Paris.
Nils Bubandt, Professor of Anthropology, University of Aarhus.

Registration: You apply by sending an e-mail to Niels Kastfelt ( AND
Karen Lauterbach ( The registration deadline is 20
September 2018
. The e-mail should include: Name, position,
institutional affiliation, paper title and a paper abstract of maximum 200

Course preparation: Participants must submit a paper of maximum 6,000 words by 1
November 2018. It is expected that all participants read all papers.
Moreover, there will be required reading as preparation for the course.

Course capacity: Maximum 15 participants
Format:The course will consist of a combination of keynote lectures and
workshops with paper presentations.
Venue: Faculty of Theology, South Campus, University of Copenhagen, Karen
Blixens Plads 16, Room 6B.1.62

Organizers: Associate Professor Niels Kastfelt (Department of Church History,
Faculty of Theology, University of Copenhagen)
Associate Professor Karen Lauterbach (Centre of African Studies,
University of Copenhagen)

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